Formplus blog
7 min read

A Guide to Using Offline Forms for Data Collection

One of the most popular questions we hear when trying to explain online data collection is, “How do I get through to my offline audience?”.


It might be easy to think of this as an “absurd” question but hold that thought for a bit. With the growing increase in the number of internet users, one would assume that everyone everywhere has internet access, but this assumption would be terribly wrong.

A look at the countries with the highest number of internet users as at June 2017 shows that China has about 738 million active internet users and the total population is approximately 1.3 billion. For Indonesia, the total population recorded in 2016 was 261 million while current stats have revealed that they have about 132 million active internet users. A nation like Nigeria has a whopping total population of approximately 186 million yet there are only 91 million active internet users in Nigeria.

The big question here is, how do we reach the unreached people i.e those who are not active on the internet?

Online data collection tools and methods previously paved the way to gather data more efficiently. From emails, chats to online forms, there are many online data collection methods but then, now is the time for us to meet users where they really are — Offline.

Examples of some offline data collection methods include:

  • Paper forms: This is the most traditional form of offline data collection. Using paper forms to gather data required printing required questions on sheets of paper and then distributing them as questionnaires and surveys.
  • Conversational SMS forms: Data can be gathered using SMS whereby responses come in like a chat.
  • Synced offline forms: These forms are created online and filled without internet access. Upon return to areas with internet access, the form then syncs with the online database.

Advantages Of Offline Data Collection

Asides the fact that offline data collection might prove to be inexpensive especially when compared to to the benefits it offers, there are a number of advantages that back the importance of gathering data offline:

Higher Response/Completion rate:
A solution to low survey completion rates is to administer offline surveys, as well as online surveys. By meeting your respondents where they are most comfortable, and not just online, survey completion rate can be increased to as high as 36%.

SMS forms are so easy to fill out and do not require internet connection, which means respondents can respond easily — like you’re just having a friendly chat with them. If you opt to send agents out to administer the surveys, ensure that they are friendly, understand the product and are willing to answer all questions a respondent might have.

Better results i.e High quality data:
Imagine you’re an educator and you have to give out tests to your students — you want your exams to reflect a true test of their knowledge, and at the same time not spend too much time scoring and marking test scripts once they are done. Using offline quizzes would go a long way to achieving these objectives.

Not only in quizzes, but offline forms also provides high quality data when used to gather event feedback, as response is immediate and participants are more open to responding on the spot seeing that they do not have to fill out a bunch of paper forms.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Wider Reach
Offline data collection expands the sample size of a study while preserving the integrity of the data. It takes off some of the limitations of paper forms and online data collection — poor/limited internet access, non-tech savviness, remote areas - that prevent surveying a large population.

In cases where you need to gather data from a large number of people and you don’t have a very large mailing/contact list, offline forms come in handy as you can send out agents armed with offline forms to meet them where they are e.g Field surveys.

Gives Room for Observation
Gathering data offline takes away the anonymity that online forms have been perceived to provide, on both sides. As a data collector, you get to interact with your respondents and make independent observations in the space where they are most comfortable in.

On the other hand, respondents can also be provided with in depth understanding of the importance of the survey and ask questions in return. This takes away any reservations they might have, helping them respond freely, thus providing high quality data.

Disadvantages Of Offline Data Collection

Depending on the route you are taking, administering offline forms can be more time consuming compared to online forms. It might also require some form of training for the surveyors before they are sent out on the field.

What you spend in time, you save in costs — printing paper forms and data entry for each form — all of that is eliminated when you go the offline data collection route.

If your surveyors are not very observant, they might not notice when bias has been introduced to a respondent’s answers. There are two ways to get rid of this, training the surveyor properly before sending them out into the field, and reminding the respondent to be open while taking the survey.

Here are some practical ways that you can offline data collection would work for you;

Field Surveys

Offline data collection tools provide an alternative (but better) means for carry out administer field surveys. Researchers and marketers can use offline forms to assess the opinions of a large number of people, without the hassle of sorting through paper and unstable internet connection, as seen in remote areas.

Supply Chain Inventory

Example of an Inventory form, that can be used offline

Offline forms make it easy to efficiently manage your supply chain inventory process. The immediacy and non-dependence on internet access makes it a great tool for inventory management both online and offline. Workers/contractors based in remote areas or traveling across state lines can use these forms to give progress reports without having to rely on the availability of internet connection.

On-site Registration and Collecting Contact Details

This is best seen in large events and conferences where the organizers do not want to rely on WiFi. By strategically positioning agents at registration desks, you can sort through registration queues faster and still collect data of high quality. Offline forms save you the time and cost of data entry from paper forms by helping you work collate all details into a central online database.

Immediate Feedback

Why wait till the end of your event or until the completion of your buyer journey before your receive feedback? Get instant feedback when you use SMS forms to receive feedback — simply add/import phone numbers to your feedback form and watch as your respondents fill it in like they are having a conversation with you.

This would also help you boost your form completion rates as you are meeting them where they are most comfortable (their mobile devices), and you are not dependent on internet connection.

Voting and Elections

Conducting an election using offline forms, might just turn out to be the most organized election process you might have ever seen. It can be as simple as adding/importing voters numbers to the form so that they can fill the form on their mobile devices, even in the comfort of their homes. This process helps you monitor the voters seeing that they can only vote against their registered phone numbers.

If the voting process is for a larger organization/body, you can set up the offline forms on tablets and devices in voting/polling booths. Voters can then come in to cast their votes, with or without a stable internet connection on those devices. At the end of the voting process, the devices are then synced to the internet where the results can then be retrieved from the database, collated and then checked for a winner.

Beats using the paper ballot system.

Quizzes

While students may be looking for ways to skip out on exams, educators/instructional technologist are on the lookout for creative and efficient ways to administer quizzes and tests.

If you are in EdTech, using offline forms for quizzes takes away that chance that students have to search for answers to questions online.

Rather than administer paper quizzes, hand out tablets without internet access, which have been fitted with an offline form to be used for the quiz. Once the students are done, you can retrieve the tablets and sync their answers to an online database. This way, you also reduce marking/scoring time that can be diverted to other activities that would help you become a better educator.

Of all the reasons listed on why you should adapt offline forms to your data collection methods, the most important one is that information is not easily ‘lost’ with offline forms. Issues like bad internet connection may affect result syncing for online forms while paper forms can get thrown out and might cause the loss of some data. This is not the case with offline forms and this is more than enough reason for you to choose them over paper forms.

Are you ready to start collecting data offline, Formplus forms have robust features and can work both online and offline. To learn more about offline forms, read this support article.

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